The Grammy-winning Seattle native and his band — comprising his wife, Maggie, son Forrest and Forrest’s fiancee, Kate Lee — will present “An Appalachian Christmas” at UW’s Meany Center on Dec. 15.
If you’d like a glimpse of Seattle native Mark O’Connor — the Grammy Award-winning composer of new American classical music and a renowned fiddler — playing his instrument while riding a skateboard, go to YouTube and have a look at the buoyant music video for the O’Connor Band’s gorgeous tune “Coming Home.”
The song’s gentle, after-the-rain joyfulness is well met by the video’s sunny, outdoor production, with Seattle’s ever-evolving skyline in the background. O’Connor, plus his wife, Maggie O’Connor (also on fiddle), son and recent Harvard graduate Forrest O’Connor (mandolin and vocals), and Forrest’s fiancée, Kate Lee (fiddle and vocals), all members of the progressive bluegrass quartet, shoot marbles, dance a bit and play on a hill of tall, unruly grass.
There’s a loose, warm spirit to the production that perfectly captures the O’Connor Band’s debut album, “Coming Home,” which debuted last summer at the No. 1 position on Billboard’s bluegrass chart. It was recently nominated for a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album.
‘Mark O’Connor: An Appalachian Christmas’
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15 at Meany Center for the Performing Arts, University of Washington, Seattle; $50-$55 (206-543-4880 or meanycenter.org).
A collaborative project Mark O’Connor describes as a natural development for a growing, musical family, the O’Connor Band is performing its holiday-season concert, “An Appalachian Christmas,” at Meany Center Thursday (Dec. 15).
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“The Christmas show was the catalyst for getting together as a group,” says O’Connor.
“I started hiring individuals in my family about five years ago to join me on a tour, starting with my son Forrest. I said, hey, it’s not that much pressure to sing a couple of songs and play mandolin in a show. He said, OK, let me try. Then my wife Maggie joined, and Kate and Forrest got together and started writing songs. I just love Kate’s voice. I have some pretty amazing singers on my  ‘An Appalachian Christmas’ record, like Renee Fleming and Alison Krauss, and Kate can cover that range. We all decided after our last Christmas tour we should play more music beyond December.”
The result was the official formation of the quartet.
“We tried it out at a few festivals, and just loved it,” O’Connor says. “Everybody thought it was wonderful, and we looked for a record deal.”
Enter “Coming Home.” Made in Nashville, the album includes songs written by Forrest (whose college-era group The Hay Brigade performed on public radio’s “The World” and “A Celtic Sojourn”) and Lee (a busy session pro with a long, remarkable list of credits, including recordings with Rod Stewart, Vince Gill and Mary J. Blige).
As vocalists, the two easily handle the O’Connor Band’s sweet, up-tempo numbers (“Always Do”) as well as ballads (“I Haven’t Said I Love You in a While”). Lee burns down the house with a country shouter, “Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man?”
Right behind Mark O’Connor’s own dazzling musicianship in the band is the soulful expressiveness and virtuosity of Maggie O’Connor, a Georgia native who grew up playing violin in a family band and earned her master of music degree from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.
The current version of O’Connor’s road-tested “An Appalachian Christmas” tour includes material from “Coming Home” as well as seasonal repertoire. O’Connor says there are surprises, too, including a spiritual.
Before the current project, O’Connor had been away from the folk field several years while composing classical pieces and working with his Hot Swing jazz group. He felt a little out of touch and unsure how the O’Connor Band would be received.
“Since I left, the whole Americana music scene took off in a big way. There’s now a fusion of progressive bluegrass and singer-songwriter Americana. We land right in the center of that, a new model where you combine beautiful instrumental ability with good old-fashioned songwriting and singing chops.”